Stok Kangri Expedition Day 3 – Exploring Ancient Leh

To climb a 6000m peak you need to acclimatise and to do this you need to spend a substantial amount of time at high altitude so another acclimatisation day was required to firstly get used to already being at 3,524m above sea-level and secondly to prepare us for the much harder task ahead. Today it had been scheduled that we were going to take a walking tour around the ancient city of Leh in which we were staying to help with this ongoing process.

Leh is the main town in the North West Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and sits at a high altitude along the Indus Valley. In years gone by it had been the old capital of the Himalayan Kingdom of Ladakh and we were here for the next three days. Continue reading “Stok Kangri Expedition Day 3 – Exploring Ancient Leh”

Stok Kangri Expedition Day 2 – Alchi Monastery

We drove for hours across a dusty and barren landscape which made up the Indus Valley. Our minibus was headed for Alchi Monastery a few hours up river and deeper into the Ladakh countryside. The Monastery consists of a small collection of monastic temples dating from between A.D.958 and 1055.

alchi monastery prayer wheelsAccording to local tradition the complex was founded by the revered guru Rinchen Zangpo famous for translating Sanskrit Buddhist texts into Tibetan. It is therefore both a very old and a very important monastery and we were headed there as part of our acclimatisation and cultural discovery programme in Ladakh.

According to ancient texts the tree outside the monastery is of a species not native to the land thereabouts and folklore dictates that it grew as a result of Rinchen Zangpo having an epiphany that he’d found the right spot to build a monastery and so he proceeded to plant his walking stick firmly and permanently in the ground to mark the spot from which the tree we see today grew.

A great story, highly improbable of course but I’d have bought into it in all probability had I been around in the early 11th century and it still pulls in the punters a thousand years later.

Maitreya-SculptureThe monastery today has three major shrines: the Dukhang (Assembly hall), the Sumtsek and the Temple of Manjushri, all dating from between the early 12th and early 13th centuries. Several small Chortens litter the complex that all appear to have seen much better days. 

Manjushri-SculptureDisappointingly the monastery itself was rather underwhelming. Although interesting it was very easily seen within an hour and all too soon thoughts turned to the rather uninteresting two hour dusty and bumpy drive back to Leh.

The resident monks seemed jaded by pilgrims and tourists and the whole visit was rather hasty. But the old carved deities to the Gods were undoubtedly impressive and once inside the dark confines of the sacred halls it was not hard to imagine that little had changed in a thousand years.

Manjushri-Sculpture

Interior Monastery shots used in this blog post are all sourced online and not my own due to cultural sensibilities and to preserve the interiors of the ancient buildings.

Check out more photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

Stok Kangri Expedition Day 1 – Arrival in Ladakh

snapseed-3 copyWe flew into Leh on the first day of our adventure aboard a very early morning flight out of Delhi. The approach to Leh airport is what could be termed interesting. 360 degrees of surrounding mountain ranges (including Stok itself), a narrow valley and a dusty ex military airstrip to try to land on. It was a sick bags out and hold onto the seat of your pants kind of a landing!

After eventually clearing the never ending bureaucracy of the airport (which is in more or less lock-down mode due to volatile political tensions in the region) we finally emerged to grab lifts in a convoy of small taxi vans waiting outside which whisked us at speed through the labyrinth of dusty and bumpy roads to our local hotel.

After a nail biting cab ride that only third world countries can deliver we arrived at our hotel/hostel where we were cordially greeted with traditional prayer scarves by the genial hotel staff.

Following on from being fed and watered the rest of the day was spent just sleeping and gaining some much needed R&R. Later after awaking from barely enough sleep I had a quick walk into town.

Very dusty and muddy with potholes everywhere is the best way to describe the streets of Leh. The town is a strange fusion of Indian and Tibetan influenced cultures. Many Tibetan refugees have made the town their new home and Buddhist influence abounds through prayer flags, stupas and the Tibetan markets.

I ended up wandering around one of the many Tibetan Bazaars that litter the town and made a timely investment in some prayer flags, (always good to have as much spiritual support as can be mustered when attempting to climb a 6000m peak).

Nothing else of much note happened for the rest of the day as this was just one of what would come to be all too familiar acclimatisation days.

Day two of the trip though would hold the hope of some much needed physical exertion by means of a trip to the very old and famous Alchi Monastery some distance away up the Indus Valley. Catch the next post to read all about our trip to the monastery.

Check out photos from my adventures at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshandlon/albums

Stok Kangri Expedition – Kit List

Stok Kangri Expedition Kit
Kit Lists are always popular on travel and adventure blogs because they are a source of good information for others planning possible similar trips. So below is my Kit List for the upcoming Stok-Kangri Expedition. It’s not totally exhaustive but with the exception of a few Cliff Bars and Glucose tablets to add in at the last minute it’s pretty much my final and definitive list. Continue reading “Stok Kangri Expedition – Kit List”